Lionel Messi: The 5 Biggest Faults with the Barcelona Star's Game
Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo always has his supporters, and occasionally Barcelona's Xavi and Andres Iniesta are in the conversation, but the majority of fans tend to overwhelmingly vote for Lionel Messi.
Simply put, Lionel Messi is the best dribbler and finisher in football today. If you need someone to produce a moment of magic, and top it off with a clinical finish, look no further than Lionel Messi, because no one can get the job done better than he can.
And yet, as I wrote for Cristiano Ronaldo's faults article, no footballer, past or present, can be considered faultless. Lionel Messi is the best in the world in multiple aspects of the beautiful game, but there are other aspects which he could improve on to become an even more unstoppable player.
Here they are.
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Lionel Messi is actually not a bad free kick taker. This video shows that Messi is actually pretty capable of scoring some wonderful free kicks.
But a closer look at the video shows while Messi's aim and precision is usually very impressive, the power behind his free kicks is lacking.
Practically every free kick goal Messi has scored has come from withing 25 yards, whereas almost all of Messi's free kicks from farther out are either misses or result in corners.
For Barcelona, Messi is not the primary free kick taker, so there isn't really much that needs to be done there.
For Argentina, however, Messi is the primary free kick taker, and therefore Messi must either learn to pass more from more distant free kicks—rather than go for goal—or build up more strength if he wants to be a more complete and successful free kick taker.
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Lionel Messi, as we've known him, has almost always been quiet and reserved, preferring to do his job on the pitch and let others do the talking in the media.
At Barcelona, this has worked out excellently. The team is stacked with strong leadership figures, like Xavi and Puyol, as well as experienced professionals, like Eric Abidal and David Villa. So Lionel Messi is allowed to focus on his primary duty: putting the ball in the back of the net.
But with Argentina, Lionel Messi does not have this luxury. Aside from Javier Mascherano, the current Argentina national team squad is heavily lacking in leadership, despite the abundance of talent on the squad.
Now that Messi is the captain of the national team, the responsibility of leading and motivating the team primarily falls on his shoulders.
This does not mean that Messi must all of a sudden become a media magnet—the way Cristiano Ronaldo can be at times—but it means that he must be strong and vocal when his team needs inspiration; both to media and when communicating on the pitch.
If Messi can do this, then he will help the Argentinian national team overcome the failures of the last few years and finally live up to their potential once again.
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Because Lionel Messi is so good at dribbling and nearly unstoppable in attack at times, it is a little known fact that he is actually rather one-footed. He can do nearly anything with his left foot, but he generally avoids using his right foot if possible.
What this hurts is Lionel Messi's flexibility in attack. He can perform well as a right winger, the position he played in when first introduced into the Barcelona starting lineup, or as a No. 9, his current position. But beyond those positions, Messi cannot perform—or, at least, has not performed—at his best.
This has been especially evident with Argentina, as manager after manager has struggled to get the best out of the young star.
Because of the abundance of center-forwards on the team, many Argentina national team managers have tried to play Messi in the hole behind the striker, or even as an attacking midfielder, but these systems have not brought about long-lasting success.
It is impossible to tell if Messi will ever find a position with Argentina in which he truly flourishes, but at present this is a problem for both Messi and his country which really needs fixing.
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Just as Lionel Messi's free kicks from distance aren't great, the same can be said for his shots.
Like his free kicks, Lionel Messi is capable of shooting from outside the box. That much can be seen here.
But in looking at the video, it is clear that Lionel Messi isn't a player who will blast the ball into the net from 30-plus yards out. Most of the goals in the video are goals taken from the edge of the box, and the video itself in the first place represents a significant minority of Messi's goals.
Lionel Messi is a No. 9 who prefers placement over power. The reason why Messi's inability to score from outside is highlighted here is that it would definitely be a tool that would greatly benefit him with Argentina, seeing as how he isn't used as a center-forward or a No. 9 when on national duty.
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Note: This slide used to be "Heading," but has been replaced with Penalty Kicks for reasons discussed in the comments section below.
A little known fact about Lionel Messi is that he actually isn't a great penalty kick taker. Out of the 22 penalties he's taken for Barcelona, Messi has missed on six occasions, with his last miss costing Barcelona the win in their matchup with Sevilla this past October.
Following that match, Sevilla goalkeeper said about Messi's penalty kick: "I knew where he was going to put it. I had studied it."
Because Messi had shot 15 out of his 21 penalties with Barca to the right of the goal (and seven of the last eight), and Varas was able to accurately predict where Messi would put his penalty kick when he stepped up to take it in the 94th minute of Barca and Sevilla's La Liga matchup.
At present, Lionel Messi's penalty kick conversion rate sits at just above 72 percent. With the best penalty kick takers in the world, like Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, enjoying conversion rates of 92 and 94 percent respectively, this is definitely one aspect of Messi's game which he can and should improve on.
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Though the claim that "Barcelona makes Messi better than he actually is" is frequently dismissed as simply the talk of Messi-haters, there is a lot to back up the claim.
Practically every weakness of Messi outlined in this article—and even most weaknesses not outlined in this article—are weaknesses which are minimized by Barcelona, its players, and playing style.
Messi does not need to be great at long free kicks at Barcelona because Xavi generally takes them. He does not need to be great at long shots because Barcelona's tiki-taka playing style is designed to get the offense as close to goal as possible and to generate many close range scoring opportunities.
Messi does not need to be tactically flexible because the team has been built to accommodate him as a No. 9—and at present there is arguably sufficient depth in every other position (except maybe at center-back). His heading is not an issue either, as Barca rarely cross the ball.
Finally, as explained in the article, Barca are already loaded with so many experienced professionals and leaders that Messi's somewhat reserved nature and lack of leadership is hardly a problem.
When Messi plays with Argentina however, most of these flaws are made apparent. Messi's heading is still not truly needed with Argentina either, since he doesn't play as a center-forward with Argentina, but it definitely acts as barrier, preventing Messi from being selected as a No. 9 for the national team.
Regardless though, Messi is still my pick for the best player in the world. He isn't as physically imposing or powerful as Cristiano Ronaldo, but he definitely maximizes the benefits his small body size gives him, such as improved balance and quickness.
Still, he definitely does have some questions to answer with his national team, and we'll get to see how his team and Ronaldo's team currently stack up against each other this weekend.
What do you think? What are Messi's biggest weaknesses in your opinion, and how can he work on them?
An interesting question to ponder: If Messi and Ronaldo were to maximize their potential, and reach the very peak of their abilities, who do you think would be better as an individual player (and not as part of a system)?
Make your opinion known in the comments section below.